What a Judge Looks at in Custody Hearing in Illinois

by Elizabeth Rayne
Illinois courts determine custody based on the best interest of the child.

Illinois courts determine custody based on the best interest of the child.

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Custody disputes may be a highly contentious and emotional issue for recently divorced parents. In making a custody determination, Illinois courts look at evidence that shows what is in the best interest of the child. To help in this determination, the court may appoint individuals to represent the child's interests. However, custody orders may not be permanent, and either parent has the right to request modification of a custody order if the circumstances change.

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Before Court

Before heading to court, parents have the option to reach their own agreement regarding custody and visitation. When the parents are unable to do so, the court will then send the parents to mediation to give them another chance to sort out their issues with the assistance of a mediator. If mediation is not successful, the court may then appoint a custody evaluator as well as an individual to represent the child's interests - a guardian ad litem, child representative or attorney - in order to assist the court in making a custody determination.

Custody Determination Factors

As in all states, courts in Illinois determine custody based on what is in the best interest of the child. The court will consider all relevant factors that may indicate what would be in the child's best interest. Factors may include the wishes of the parents, the emotional and physical health of the parents and child, child's interactions with the parents, and child's adjustment to school or community. If the court determines that the child is mature enough to understand the proceedings, usually 14 or older, the court may consider the child's wishes in the custody determination. .

Joint Custody Considerations

Generally, Illinois courts will only award joint custody when the parents are able to effectively cooperate in matters regarding the child. The parents must submit a "joint parenting agreement," which spells out how the parents will decide major issues such as health care, education and religion. The agreement may also include a provision that if the parents cannot agree on any matter, they will attend mediation. If parents are not able to cooperate, the court will likely award sole custody to one parent, giving her the power to make major decisions for the child.

Other Considerations

In most cases, courts operate on the assumption that siblings should not be separated between households; thus, custody arrangements aim to keep siblings together. Further, when one parent has served as the primary caretaker of the children before the custody battle began, courts are generally reluctant to separate the children from that parent.

Modification

Under certain circumstances, Illinois law allows parents to modify a custody order. Except in limited circumstances, such as when a child's physical or mental health is in serious danger due to the current environment, you typically may not modify a custody order until at least two years have passed since the original judgment. After two years, you may seek a custody order when there has been a change in circumstances since the original order and it is in the child's best interest to change the custody arrangement.